AT 11 a.m. on 27 May, children and their families will pile into
the church hall at St John's, Farley Hill, Luton, in time for
activities and lunch. Many will come back once a week during the
summer holidays, too.
St John's opened its MakeLunch kitchen in October 2013. The aim
of this church-led network of kitchens is to provide food for
children who might otherwise go hungry during the school
"The first aim for us was to address the problem of child
poverty on the [Farley Hill] estate; the second, which came later,
was to address community cohesion - and it's worked," says Katja
O'Neill, whose husband is the Priest-in-Charge at St John's.
The 2013 school census shows that there are currently 1.3
million children registered for free school meals (not including
Key Stage 1 pupils who also receive free school dinners); but the
charity Child Action Poverty Group lists 3.5 million children (one
in four) as living in poverty. Although the state is committed to
providing one hot meal a day during term-time for eligible
children, in the holidays there is no such guarantee.
MakeLunch kitchens are currently run in 50 other locations
across Britain: in church halls, community halls, or on school
premises, and all are staffed by church volunteers.
The director of MakeLunch, Rachel Warwick, an ex-primary-school
teacher, says that the catalyst behind the initiative was a TV
documentary in June 2011 about poverty in the UK.
"The programme featured several kids talking about the fact that
they get free meals at school, which can be the only meal a day
that they get. But, in the school holidays, that provision isn't
there for them.
"It felt like a really obvious thing churches could do: we're
pretty good at making food, and we've usually got the facilities.
So, the idea was to open churches up in the school holidays, and
continue the meal provision that kids are relying on in term
The first "kitchen" was opened by a Pioneer ordinand, Nik
Stephenson, in Oakley Vale, Corby, Northamptonshire. "We had no
community building, so we bought a gazebo and served between 15 to
20 kids a day over the whole of the six weeks," Mr Stephenson says.
Fifty-one churches are currently on board, including five Anglican
churches; and, last year, MakeLunch fed just over 11,503 meals to
"Churches contact schools in their community, and leave it to
the schools to invite the right families. Some kitchens feed the
kids and their families; some just the kids. Some kitchens that are
more established put on activities, too; or have brought in some
entertainment, perhaps a clown; or a local animal shelter brings in
Churches are not required to commit for every holiday. "We ask
churches to do what they can. If a church can manage only one day a
week, it's better than nothing. Similarly, there are six weeks in
the summer holidays; but, if they can do only one week, then do one
week. Let's start with what we have got, and do something; it's a
kind of loaves-and-fishes thing."
The basics of what's needed is at least eight willing volunteers
per day. "If you've got a church building, that's great; or, if
you've got people who are willing to volunteer, but no facilities,
we can usually help you work out the rest. It's possible to partner
with other churches." Individuals can contact MakeLunch, too, and
can be partnered with a project.
MakeLunch provides suggested menus and recipes, and churches
commit to meet the same standards as school dinners: that is,
nutritionally balanced meals that include protein, carbohydrate,
milk and dairy, and fruit and veg.
"But, within those guidelines, kitchens decide what they cook,"
Mrs Warwick says. "That might be to do with what food is available,
what donations they've had, what they enjoy cooking, or what local
partnerships they've developed."
A partnership developed by a MakeLunch kitchen in Oswaldtwistle,
for example, has led to an Indian restaurant's cooking a meal for
the children once a week; in Kidderminster, a MakeLunch kitchen has
developed a similar partnership with a fish-and-chip
"We've had free school meals since the '70s; so we have to
assume that, if they needed that provision, it creates a problem in
the holidays. If you feed the kids in school, you've got to think
about what they're eating when they're not at school.
"There are lots of reasons why people find themselves in
poverty. Whatever those reasons are, it's never the children's
Mrs Warwick's hopes for the future are two-fold: "One is that
there'd be a kitchen available for every child who needs it in the
holidays. Our other hope is that we could use the stats and the
stories to campaign for change.
"Perhaps this would become something that the Government would
provide, or that benefits could change to acknowledge that the cost
to families during school holidays are higher than the cost during
term time, because the current system doesn't acknowledge
The report Feeding Britain, published by the All-Party
Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty in the UK,
suggests that it would cost in the region of £130 million to
continue the provision of free school meals during school
For now, however, interested churches can get in touch with
MakeLunch through its website. To register as a MakeLunch kitchen
costs churches £150 for the first year, which includes all training
and printed materials.
All registered MakeLunch kitchens receive access to corporate
partnerships, and to micro-funding provided through the Cinnamon
An extract from the full review of the All-Party
Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty in the United
"In a major study on the feeding of schoolchildren, M. E.
Bulkeley wrote a century ago that:
'The discontinuance of the school meals during the holidays has
been shown to undo much of the benefit derived during the term
time, and it entails unnecessary suffering on the children. . .
'The experiments made by Dr Crowley at Bradford in 1907, and by
the Medical Officer of Health at Northampton in 1909, not to
mention the testimony offered by numbers of teachers as to the
deterioration of the children physically during the holidays, prove
conclusively the need for the continuation of the meals, if the
children are not to lose much of the benefit which they have
derived during term time.'
"Yet, 100 years on, there are some poor parents who dread the
coming of the school holidays, and particularly the summer holiday,
when their children cannot gain free school meals."